Why blacks suffer rough justice

April 28, 1995

Black people face differential treatment at almost every stage of the criminal justice system, and a new study by researchers at Warwick University will be looking into why.

The study will try to discover whether racial differences in criminal justice are due to discrimination or other factors. The two-year study is being funded by a Pounds 196,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council.

Michael McConville, professor of law and one of the researchers, said: "We have looked at various aspects of the system and have been struck by ways it has not helped black defendants."

There are two types of discrimination: direct and indirect. Professor McConville argues that direct discrimination occurs when judges give severer sentences to blacks because of their race. But research suggests there is no general direct discrimination.

The other answer could be that indirect discrimination is occurring where the system has a bias which comes from the decisions black defendants make. For example, people from ethnic minorities tend to opt for trial at crown court and also submit pleas of not guilty more frequently. If convicted in a crown court they get a severer sentence. The study will assess how defendants make their decisions, what difficulties they have about being tried by magistrates and what they feel about trial by jury.

The sample will consist of ethnic minority defendants and a control group of white defendants from London and provincial cities. Their cases will be followed through the system.

Along with Lee Bridges, principal research fellow, Professor McConville will examine issues such as legal representation; access to legal advice while in custody; exercising the right to silence; pleas; and the outcomes of cases and possible sentences levied on the defendants.

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